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Liability of Commercial and Social Hosts for Alcohol-related Injuries: A National Survey of Accountability Norms and Judgments

Wagenaar AC, Denk CE, Hannan PJ, Chen H, Harwood EM. Public Opinion Quarterly, 65: 344-368, 2001.

Legal standards for liability of commercial sellers and social providers of alcoholic beverages are affected by social norms concerning accountability and responsibility. Using a nationwide probability sample telephone survey of 7,021 U.S. residents, we conducted a randomized experiment in which each subject was asked to respond to multiple vignettes. The vignettes told stories of drinking situations, systematically varying dimensions concerning age of drinker, commercial versus social settings, amount of alcohol consumed, history of previous behavior, and seriousness of damage or injury following drinking. Analyses involved linear mixed (i.e., random effects) model regressions, using responses to vignettes as the outcome variable, controlling for a series of sociodemographic, behavioral, and attitudinal measures. Results showed that age of drinker (young), setting (bar), and previous behavior (history of irresponsibility) were most strongly associated with harsher judgments of civil liability. Citizens’ multiple standards for assigning legal liability and implications for public policy are discussed.

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